Florida Panthers Moving Forward Part Four: Expansion Draft Protected List

Read Parts 1 (Introduction)2 (General Manager), and 3 (Coach) from last week.

The big unknown this season is the Expansion Draft. Dale Tallon and whoever is the GM will shape the Panthers depth chart heading into the offseason with their choices of whom to protect and whom to expose. The most appealing protection list format league wide–protecting seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie–is a safe bet for Cats, too. Choosing the second option–protecting eight skaters and one goalie–creates unnecessary risk. But despite its unlikelihood, we’ll throw up what that would look like, if only to seal the case of using the 7F/ 3D/ 1G option. Simply and obviously, it is better to protect more players than less.

Goalies

Let us start from the net out. The financial and long term commitment made to James Reimer in the offseason, and the way the goalie situation has shook out this season, makes Reimer fans’ leading favorite to be protected. Younger, cheaper and branded the next starter helps Reimer’s case. It could be argued that the biggest reason to protect Reimer over Luongo is Lu’s contract acts as protection, in and of itself. Luongo is signed onto a 35+ contract until summer 2022 (one year longer than Reimer’s contract) and a cap hit $1.133 more than Reimer. Given Luongo’s age and recent health, you can see the argument.

But that doesn’t settle the matter. For the same reasons Florida took on Lu’s contract, Vegas may be inclined to as well. Luongo is a great team ambassador. Fans will love him, and they will buy tickets and merchandise because of it. His social media, and the personality it readily showcases is gravy. It also can not be understated Lu’s impact in a locker room. Vegas’s Director of Scouting, Scott Luce knows this from his long stint in Florida.  The cap space Lu occupies also could help an expansion team reach the floor if needed. Luongo’s talent is clearly unquestioned when healthy. The argument could be made he was never really healthy all year, and it’d probably be right.

Whether Vegas concludes that means Luongo will be able to maintain the starter’s role next year and long enough into the future is a question for another blog. But is it really out of the question for a team starting with no history, identity or locker room stability to take a chance on him?

Our philosophy in picking which puck stopper to protect is a mix of which goalie provides the best chance of winning a Stanley Cup in the Stanley Cup Window™ and moving away from the impending Dallas Stars-esque goaltending issue–goalies who occupy too large a portion of the salary cap.

Both Reimer and Luongo will be thirty years or older come next season’s end, and through 2021 will comprise $7.933m in cap space. Even if the cap rises $7m somewhere in those four seasons, that would still be ~10% of the entire cap space allocation. With both goalies either already experiencing or soon to experience age-related decline, it is an untenable situation to keep both these goalies together long.

From our perch, Luongo is the goalie to protect.

Although we do not know the true extent of his injuries, his ability to win games and his overall talent level makes him the goalie most likely to backstop the Panthers through to a Cup championship in the next two seasons. His cap hit is manageable in the short term, and the cap recapture structure should Luongo retire before contract is up provides not-so-painful outs in 2019, 2020, and 2021. The longer he plays, the better for Florida.


Luongo demonstrated the ability to carry a large lionshare of the starts, unlike Reimer, and has had much more success and experience in the playoffs. Reimer’s weak glove hand and penchant for the bad angle and other soft goals puts him below Luongo, even at Roberto’s advanced age. Rebound control is another issue, as Reimer still has trouble holding onto pucks.

Reimer has not taken a starter’s workload since 2006 in the WHL. The only time he was even positioned as a starter for a season in the NHL came in the lockout shortened year where he took Toronto to the first round exit against Boston.

Exposing Reimer to Vegas may not prove too risky as the goalies available to Vegas will be plenty. Malcom Subban, Linus Ullmark, Calvin Pickard, Jimmy Howard, Jaroslav Halak, Antti Raanta, Michal Neuvirth, Aaron Dell, Philipp Grubauer, Michael Hutchinson, a PIT goalie and a DAL goalie. Plus Vegas will have first crack at all UFAs.  See, a lot.  Florida will most likely expose one or two defenseman who should garner more attention than Reimer, anyway. Tallon can always move Reimer prior to the Expansion Draft for a forward and expose Sam Brittain as well. Florida, at least publicly, has been firm in stating Luongo is the goalie to take them far in the playoffs. We will see how that matches up.

Defensemen

With only three total spots available to protect blueliners, only one spot is truly up for grabs. Keith Yandle’s sweetheart of a deal (for him) includes a No Movement Clause, rubber stamping safe passage through the expansion process. Aaron Ekblad’s sweetheart looks (ok, I couldn’t help myself there) and franchise “tag” status gives him the second protected slot. Matheson’s exemption means Jason Demers, Alex Petrovic, and Mark Pysyk are left. Which defenseman brings the most benefit or value and, thus, is worthy of the final spot?

Likely, most people would rate them as they were listed: Demers, Petrovic, and Pysyk. There are cases for all of them. Demers, a surprise signing–the front office wasn’t planning on signing him until there he was Day 2 of Free Agency–has had his best season yet. Or at least that is how its billed. He had some great seasons in San Jose, though, that were probably better. His contract and heavy usage this year leans towards him being the guy. Petrovic brings what the other five defenders in the lineup could not 5v5: sound defense, simple puck movement, and a physical presence (with skill). Pysyk carries good, low event numbers and factors in on the penalty kill. Being a cost effective option like Petrovic, it also alleviates spending too much on the blueline as Matheson should make some coin next contract.

This may cause an audible groan but…

Alex Petrovic is our clear choice to keep.

Petrovic’s injury highlighted just how big of an asset he is for the Panthers, on ice and in the locker room. On the ice, Petrovic possesses the puck moving skills and enough offensive skills that he aids puck management positively and has good first assists numbers. He also packs the most punch (literally and figuratively) of the Florida blueliners on the defensive. The physical presence is a huge boost to the team pinching down the wall in the offensive zone, closing gaps in the neutral zone, and down low and net front in the defensive end. Florida’s progress on the blue line offensively was overshadowed by the major setbacks in the defensive end 5v5, and was definitely propped up by funneling pucks back to the blueline as first and main source of offense. Protecting Petrovic keeps the biggest defensive strength on the team, on the team.

Eye test and statistics back this up. Petrovic saw the highest rate of defensive zone starts and still manages to be at the top of the team in both offensive and defensive rate stats. He is top 2 (or top pairing) in: Shots for per 60, shots against per 60, shots for percentage, Goals for per 60, Goals for percentage, first assists per 60, points per 60, individual assists percentage (The percentage of goals scored while player was on ice that the player has an assist on) and individual points percentage.

Demers on the other hand is shooting almost double his usual shooting percentage while not really surpassing his usual shot or point production rates. There may be regression to set in next season. Demers’ “against” stats are higher than the previous year or two but they also aren’t new lows, as they mirror at least two prior seasons in his career indicating these “against” rates may be within his actual range. The eye test will tell you in the defensive end Demers is prone to being exposed without the puck and loses position and marks too frequently. Four years left at $4.5m is not immovable or a bad price to pay for Demers but with two better right handed defenseman on the roster and money needed for Matheson and eventually *hopefully* McCoshen, Demers presents a physical and financial roadblock to developing the good defensive prospects.

Exposing Demers also acts as insulation for Mark Pysyk. Demers available makes Pysyk’s return almost guaranteed. Which would be swell, allowing Florida the fallback option of using their most consistent defensive pair, Pysyk and Petrovic.

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Forwards

The Forward group is the least controversial. Six of the seven spots safely spent on: Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck, Bjugstad, Smith, and Marchessault. Despite the observed division among Florida fans, everyone is likely to check the boxes next to these six names on CapFriendly’s Expansion tool.

Out of those eligible for the Expansion Draft, that leaves three forwards unprotected: Wings Jussi Jokinen and Colton Sceviour, and captain center Derek MacKenzie.

Since only one can get the protected slot, it is best to quickly rule out the lesser of the three options and spend most time debating the other two. Despite ownership’s obsession and the “C” on his jersey, the easiest choice to expose is Derek MacKenzie. MacKenzie is not a threat to get taken, and even so the value in retaining him is negative. The protection slot is better used on greater value assets.

Jokinen is turning 34 this April and has one year left on his deal at $4.0m cap hit. Jussi’s stats took a noticeable step back. It’s most likely a mix of age and coming back down to earth from that line’s huge run last year (you see similar in Smith). Sceviour on the other hand has been as good on the PK as Jokinen + some good shorthanded offense. His speed and his IQ are great for a 4th line role; his cap hit makes a decent case, too. The merit for either being protected is pretty equal, and in reality both players project as 4th liners next year so it’s splitting hairs. But if you have to choose one…

Jussi Jokinen’s overall value outweighs Sceviour’s value, so you must protect the higher valued asset.

Let me be clear, my expectation is that Colton Sceviour is in the lineup for the Panthers next season and Jokinen is not.

The Expansion Draft, and who is or is not protected, is unlikely to change that. Jokinen’s value is best realized in a trade to a team in search of veteran mentorship, playoff experience, bottom six reliability. The Panthers are not that team but certainly stand to benefit flipping him to a team replacing a forward lost to expansion or a young team like Edmonton who may want to head into next season with better depth and Jussi’s Swiss Army Knife versatility. By protecting Jokinen and moving him after the Expansion Draft either solo or as part of a package (again, Edmonton) gives him more value as JJ’s new NHL team does not need to use a protection slot on him.

Sceviour (and really Jokinen, too) aren’t likely to be the most attractive bait cast out in June to see if Vegas bites. Relative to the Panthers, the defenders and goaltenders are way more appealing. But since Vegas GM George “GMGM” McPhee stated his opening to poaching exposed players for other teams, better to protect Jokinen. Just in case.

 

Expansion List

Here’s a chart that shows the full expansion list, and even shows you what the crazy eight skater/ one goalie format would look like. Each format has the 3 most likely candidates Vegas would select ranked.

flaexpansionlist

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*Look, we use spreadsheets, too.*

 

Continue reading, Part Five here.

 

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